Backcountry Use

These mountains also provide habitat for over 120 species of birds and mammals. The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest manages much of this land in order to continue to provide these remarkable resources and opportunities.

The heart of the mountains is the backcountry, that undeveloped and surprisingly fragile land away from roads and picnic areas. The combination of dramatic scenery and easy access makes the backcountry both popular and highly vulnerable. The steep, rugged terrain attracts and concentrates over 300,00 visitors per year into narrow canyon corridors.

Your actions can guarantee the next generation will benefit from the same backcountry resources and opportunities available to you today.

By becoming aware of backcountry concerns and adopting the following practices you are taking the first steps toward backcountry preservation.

Hiking Skills

The Forest Service constructs and maintains trails for the enjoyment of forest visitors. Trails vary in difficulty from easy to extreme. A few simple guidelines will help make your trip a safe and pleasant experience.

Pre-Trip Planning: take time to plan your outing. Stop by or call the Salt Lake Ranger District office or our Outdoor Recreation Information Center for trail information (or check out the web site). In addition, your trip will be more enjoyable and safer if you obtain and learn to read a map of the area you plan to visit. Inexpensive maps and books of local trails are available from area retailers and the U.S. Geological Survey. Don't forget to check trailhead bulletin boards for up-to-the-minute news.

Trail Travel: please remember to stay on the trail. Traveling off trail can kill delicate vegetation and lead to erosion. When you encounter switchbacks -the zig zags in a trail- remember that they are there to reduce erosion and make travel easier. Short cutting trails at switchbacks shortens trail life and increases maintenance costs. It is also possible to receive a citation for damaging vegetation and causing erosion.

Trail Etiquette: some trails are shared by hikers, horses, and bicyclists, so please be courteous. Horses always have the right of way and bicyclists must slow down or stop to permit the safe passage of foot traffic. Also, please respect private land located throughout the canyons.

Wet and Wild: lakes and streams along the trail look cool and refreshing, but the water may be unfit for drinking. Giardia and Cryptosporidia -water borne parasites- are common in mountain streams and may require medical treatment to cure. Remember to bring a minimum of one quart of water per person for a four to six mile hike. Consider investing in a water purification filter if you frequently hike the backcountry.

Camping Skills

Learning Leave No Trace -minimum impact- camping techniques is one of the best ways you can help protect the backcountry. Camping activities are potentially very damaging and require special skills. Many beautiful backcountry areas have been irreparably damaged by poorly skilled hikers and campers. The Forest Service can help you or your group with your camping questions. Here are a few rules and Leave No Trace ideas to get you started.

Pre-Trip Planning: have a game plan before you reach your destination. Familiarize yourself with the area you plan to visit by checking maps, talking with the Forest Service, and taking time for first-hand inspection. Check trailhead bulletin boards for important information and regulations.

Group Size: limit your group size to ten or less, four to six is even better. Large groups trample vegetation, contribute to erosion, and disturb others. The Forest Service can help groups develop plans to minimize their impact. (see regulations)

Campsite Selection: always camp at least 200 feet (70 to 80 paces) from alpine streams and lakes. You'll be protecting water quality, fragile vegetation, and wildlife areas. You can respect the solitude of other visitors by camping at least 100 feet from other campers and 200 feet from trails. (see regulations)

Fires or Stoves: Leave No Trace campers always carry a stove and know when to use it. Lightweight stoves don't leave black scars or otherwise damage the land, and are more reliable than fires for cooking. If you must have a fire, use a properly located existing fire site and burn only dead wood from the forest floor. Never cut down trees or branches from live trees; it is illegal. Avoid building fires at high elevations where growing seasons are short and wood is scarce. Never put foil, can, bottles, or plastic in your fire and always drench it with water when you are finished. Some areas are closed to fires. (see regulations)

Sanitation: the "cat hole" method of digging a shallow 6 to 8 inch hole to serve as a toilet for feces helps prevent water pollution and exposure to other people. A small garden tool works well for digging cat holes. Locate your cat hole at least 200 feet from any water source and cover with soil. Pack out used toilet paper in a plastic bag or (when fires are permitted and it's safe to do so) burn it in a campfire.

Protected Watershed

The mountains of the Wasatch Front are natural water reservoirs for people living in the Salt Lake Valley. Over half of the drinking water for area residents comes from the surrounding canyons.
Mountain lakes and streams are amazingly pristine, but are easily polluted. Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood, and Lamb's Canyon are protected Salt Lake City watersheds. It is vital that these, and other local canyon watersheds, remain clean to ensure an unpolluted water supply.

Regulations have been enacted to help the people of the Salt Lake metropolitan area care for this priceless water resource. Please be aware of these regulations and help keep your water clean.

Protective Regulations

Regulations are necessary to minimize the cumulative effects of thousands of backcountry visitors. These regulations may appear confusing, but are easier to understand if you know what each law is designed to do. Some regulations protect watershed areas, some apply to wilderness, and others focus on canyon road corridors. Visitors are often responsible for following several regulations at the same time. Please observe all backcountry regulations and be aware that these laws are strictly enforced. Thank you.

Watershed Regulations

Please observe these restrictions within the Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood, and Lamb's Canyon watersheds. Help keep your water clean.

  • No camping within 200 feet of water (Helps protect fragile lake and stream shores and keeps pollutants out of water).
  • No swimming or bathing in lakes and streams (Keeps bacteria and other contaminants out of water sources).
  • No dogs or horses permitted (Keeps bacteria out of water sources).
  • No washing of food or dishes in lakes or streams.

Wilderness Regulations

Wilderness regulations vary across the country. The following acts are prohibited within the Mount Olympus, Twin Peaks, and Deseret Peak Wildernesses and the portion of the Lone Peak Wilderness located within the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Please observe the following prohibitions when visiting these local wildernesses.

The following acts are prohibited:

  • Group sizes exceeding 10 persons (Helps reduce campsite damage and preserves wilderness solitude).
  • Camping within 200 feet of trails, lakes, ponds, streams, springs, and other water sources (Protects fragile lake and stream shores, offers wildlife undisturbed access to water, and preserves wilderness solitude).
  • Camping within 100 feet of another campsite (Reduces campsite expansion and devegetation, and preserves wilderness solitude).
  • Camping for a period of more than three days at an individual site (Helps reduce campsite impacts and preserves wilderness solitude).
  • Bedding, tethering, hobbling, or hitching a horse or other saddle pack or draft animal within 200 feet of lakes, streams, or springs in the Mount Olympus and Deseret Peak Wilderness. (Keeps bacteria and other contaminants out of water sources and protects fragile lake and stream shores). *Remember the other wilderness areas are in Salt Lake City Watershed therefore domestic animals are not allowed.
  • Short cutting a trail switchback (Prevents erosion of trails and hillsides).
  • Disposing of debris, garbage, or waste (Keeps water sources clean and removes evidence of people from the wilderness).
  • Mechanized use of any kind, including mountain bikes (Helps reduce impact and preserves wilderness' primitive character).
  • Campfires within Mill B South Fork drainage in the Twin Peaks Wilderness and the Red Pine and Maybird Gulch drainages within the Lone Peak Wilderness. These areas receive heavy use so fire restrictions have been implemented (Campfires consume wood, kill vegetation, and sterilize soil. This regulation preserves decaying wood that improves soil for future plant growth and provides insect and bird habitat. This regulation also prevents old campfire circles from scarring the land).

Tri-Canyon Regulations

Please observe these special restrictions if you are visiting one of the Tri-Canyons: Little Cottonwood Canyon, Big Cottonwood Canyon, or Mill Creek Canyon.

  • No camping within one half mile of any road in Mill Creek Canyon, Big Cottonwood Canyon, or Little Cottonwood Canyon.
  • No fires permitted within one half mile of any road in Mill Creek Canyon, Big Cottonwood Canyon, or Little Cottonwood Canyon.
  • No campfires permitted within Mill B South Fork Drainage (Lake Blanche) in the Twin Peaks Wilderness and Red Pine Fork and Maybird Gulch drainages within the Lone Peak Wilderness.

These regulations reduce the effects of people concentrating activities along canyon road corridors.

Other Forest Service and County regulations also apply to local canyons. Contact the Forest Service, Salt Lake County, Davis County, or Tooele County Sheriff's office for more information.

Wilderness Awareness

Congress passed the Wilderness Preservation Act of 1964 ". . . to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness." Wilderness designation shelters primitive habitat, water resources and other characteristics of special backcountry areas from an ever expanding civilization. The Salt Lake Ranger District of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest manages four federally designated wilderness areas.

  • Lone Peak Wilderness, created by Congress in 1978, is located between American Fork Canyon and Little Cottonwood Canyon. Lone Peak Wilderness is co-managed by the
    Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forests.

  • Twin Peaks Wilderness, created in 1984, is located between Little Cottonwood Canyon and Big Cottonwood Canyon.

  • Mt. Olympus Wilderness, also created in 1984, is located between Big Cottonwood Canyon and Mill Creek Canyon.

  • Deseret Peak Wilderness, created in 1984, this wilderness is located southwest of Grantsville, Utah between Tooele Valley and Skull Valley.

Please remember that you are a visitor in wilderness and help to protect its primitive character for the future. Designated wilderness areas are closed to mechanized travel -including bicycles- to preserve their primitive character.